Couldn’t Even Buy a Job

You Couldn’t Even Buy a Job

man standing next to old carIt’s hard for people used to today’s wages to realize that a dollar-a-day was a good wage during the Depression. Jobs were so few and hard to find that if you had a job – no matter how bad it was – you kept it. One of the catch phrases of the era was, “You couldn’t even buy a job.”


Dougherty Louise Dougherty was a teacher in York during the 30s. Like many teachers, she understood that if she got married, she would lose her job. In some school districts this clause was actually written into a teacher’s contract the teacher signed. Local boards of education were not against women; but, as Louise puts it, “I think the theory was if there was one person in the family earning a living, that’s enough.” Only one job per family in hard times.

Harvey Taft was living in Falls City, Nebraska, when the farmer he was working for asked Harvey to work for less than half what he had been making – $17 a month for long days. The farmer said there was another man willing to take the job. Harvey couldn’t feed his family on that wage, and so he “went on relief.” By this point, the federal government had stepped in with funds to help states help unemployed workers. Harvey was able to make up to $2.44 a day on relief. Yet, Harvey still worked to get off relief.


Jensen If you talk with people who lived during the Depression (as this Learner Resource suggests), over and over again, you’ll hear something like, ‘We were poor, but so was everyone else. We were all in the same boat.’ That’s how Stanley Jensen remembers it. “I don’t think we felt like we were any worse off as a family than other people in the community,” Stan says, despite the fact that when “we went to the store, but we didn’t buy things. We traded.”

Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.

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